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April 18th, 2007 - pennae aquilae

Date: 2007-04-18 00:15
Subject: A Day At Sea
Security: Public
Tags:asia trip, travel
Monday, April 16th, 7:14 pm

Today we had a day at sea, so I'll write a bit more about shipboard life.

We get "mail" on the ship. Not so much from the mainland as we get messages, the New York Times Digest, and other things delivered daily to our stateroom. The doorplate that shows our stateroom number has a little notch in it that paper can be slotted into. People who are not from the US or who have native languages other than English get other daily paper digests every morning in their slot. Some people's travel agents have special coupons delivered to them, or vouchers for special meals in the Pinnacle Grill and the like as thank yous.

The outdoor decks where one can walk or sit and watch the sea have little hutches with red plaid blankets in them. So if you want to sit out and watch the sea when it's cold and blecky, well, you can bundle up in a nice blanket.

There really hasn't been much to see at sea. Every single day has been foggy, and today was like the last sea day where the ship's horn sounded every few minutes. The weather has been warming steadily as we head south, but the overcast and mist have stuck with us.

It's the last of the ship's formal nights and I discovered today that I blew it on packing the right number of dress socks. Somehow I only packed 2 instead of 3 pairs, and both pairs are in the laundry I sent off to be washed today. Ah well. I will wear my dressy clogs with no socks and I doubt anyone will notice.
On-board cooking class with Chef KimCollapse )
We've gained a lot of free souvenirs in the course of this cruise it seems. This is the second chef hat, as there was one night everyone got them in the dining room as part of the cooking entertainment show that went on. The night before we arrived in China there was the stuffed panda. In Pusan the tour greeters gave us Welcome to Busan fans. Our tour guide in Japan made each of us an origami crane. I won that Holland America keychain in the trivia quiz. One night's dinner had a Dutch theme and we all got little Dutch boy and Dutch girl hats. There's probably something I'm forgetting, too.

There's a definite sense that the cruise will soon be ending. Tonight at dinner all the chefs were introduced to great applause, and there was a Baked Alaska parade with every waiter carrying a baked alaska with sparklers stuck in it around to great fanfare. And then came the dessert extravaganza up on the Lido poolside, with all the intricately carved melons and bread sculptures, surrounding a buffet of sumptuous desserts. Having just finished my baked alaska, I only had room for one tiny crepe suzette. But it all looked amazing.
OMG, it all ends soon...Collapse )
It's funny, we were talking tonight after dinner, as we often do, until the we noticed that we were the last people left and that the waiters were setting the other tables for breakfast. And one of the subjects of conversation was how the four of us never run out of things to talk about. Sitting down to dinner every night as a family is a luxury we really haven't had since the last cruise we went on 15 or 16 years ago--well, really since I moved out of the house in the mid-1980s. What prompted this thought was observing some of the other family groups on the cruise who look like maybe they don't talk about anything, or where the adult children are only along with the parents out of a sense of duty of some kind. I feel lucky, and always have, to be part of a family (although small by some reckoning) where everyone likes each other. Love, yeah, we have that too, in spades, but to actually get along, appreciate each other, and enjoy spending as much time together as possible? That seems a little more rare, and is something to be celebrated.
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Date: 2007-04-18 14:59
Subject: Xiamen, China, and then back at sea
Security: Public
Tags:asia trip, travel
April 17, 2007, 7:42 pm

We're about to cast off from Xiamen. And it's almost time to go to dinner, which means this was a bad time to start a blog entry.

10:20 pm
Okay, just got back from dinner. My main impression of Xiamen is that it's much more of a backwater than any place we've been. It was the first place we've been, for example, where people stared at our tour bus with an expression that clearly said "Holy crap! White people!" The cruise wasn't originally supposed to stop here. We were supposed to go to Taipei, but the political situation between China and Taiwan is not great right now so as I understand it, that port of call was nixed. Xiamen is building a cruise ship terminal, but it isn't built yet, so we had to dock at the container ship unloading port which we were not allowed to walk through. (You could see why--it was basically a small city of metal containers through which vehicles and our tour buses drove willy nilly.) The airport, according to one of our student tour guides, has 50 flights a day, four of which are international. Yes, and how many of those international flights are to/from non-Asian countries? Probably none.

So, yeah, white people seem to be a bit more of a rarity here. The other thing that makes it seem like a bit of a backwater is that there were not many attractions to go to. We saw the Putuo Temple, which was really nifty, and the Turtle Garden where Tan Kahkee is entombed, and in the afternoon we went to Gulangyu Island (aka the Piano Island, for reasons I'll explain in a bit). And that is pretty much all there is to see in Xiamen.

Oh, and a third thing--it's the first place we've been in three countries where we did not see a Starbucks Coffee.

Before I regale you with the day's adventures, though, let me tell you what happened at dinner. It rained.
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pennae aquilae
philosophy of life